Hyping the Hyperloop

Aug 12th, 2013 | Posted by

Today we finally learned the details of Elon Musk’s much-hyped Hyperloop. And while some readers may expect me to trash it, I actually think it’s a pretty awesome idea. What’s not to love about getting from SF to LA in 30 minutes? Sign me up!

The Hyperloop does have some significant technical challenges facing it, but so does any ambitious idea. It’s also not a new idea. Proposals like it, usually known as a vactrain, have circulated for the last 100 years. Yet there are significant problems with the Hyperloop – specifically with the way it’s being discussed and framed. Many of the same media outlets that have spent the last five years criticizing every detail of the California high speed rail project have today been reporting on the Hyperloop concept without the same levels of skepticism that they’ve brought to HSR – even though HSR is a commonplace, proven technology whereas the Hyperloop is a concept on paper.

Part of the challenge is that Elon Musk himself has set up the Hyperloop in opposition to the California HSR project. That either/or frame is set up at the very beginning of his proposal:

When the California “high speed” rail was approved, I was quite disappointed, as I know many others were too. How could it be that the home of Silicon Valley and JPL – doing incredible things like indexing all the world’s knowledge and putting rovers on Mars – would build a bullet train that is both one of the most expensive per mile and one of the slowest in the world? Note, I am hedging my statement slightly by saying “one of”. The head of the California high speed rail project called me to complain that it wasn’t the very slowest bullet train nor the very most expensive per mile.

The underlying motive for a statewide mass transit system is a good one. It would be great to have an alternative to flying or driving, but obviously only if it is actually better than flying or driving. The train in question would be both slower, more expensive to operate (if unsubsidized) and less safe by two orders of magnitude than flying, so why would anyone use it?

If we are to make a massive investment in a new transportation system, then
the return should by rights be equally massive. Compared to the alternatives, it
should ideally be:

• Safer
• Faster
• Lower cost
• More convenient
• Immune to weather
• Sustainably self-powering
• Resistant to Earthquakes
• Not disruptive to those along the route

There are so many problems here that I literally do not know where to begin. But I’ll start with what to me is the most egregious claim, that HSR is somehow less safe than flying.

The Aircraft Crashes Record Office estimates there were 794 deaths in 2012 alone from flying. That was the lowest number since 2004, and the intervening years saw an average of about 1,000 deaths per year.

High speed rail, however, has an exceptional safety record. Last month’s crash in Spain killed 77 people. The Wenzhou crash in China in 2011 killed 40. The Eschede disaster killed 101 people in 1998. And that’s it. I have no clue where Musk got the claim that HSR is less safe than flying but it is totally false.

His other claims here are equally flawed. HSR has operated safely in Japan, an earthquake prone country, for 50 years. It isn’t immune to weather but it would also have no problem operating in any of the weather situations California regularly faces. Because of the need for a lot of curves – especially if he wants to stick to state-owned right of way – Musk will struggle to get the speeds he wants, eroding the advantage he seeks over flying.

But it’s two claims in particular that Musk is getting attention for that deserve really close scrutiny: disruption and cost. Musk seems to side with those who have attacked the HSR project for its impact on land, including farmland:

The key advantages of a tube vs. a railway track are that it can be built above the ground on pylons and it can be built in prefabricated sections that are dropped in place and joined with an orbital seam welder. By building it on pylons, you can almost entirely avoid the need to buy land by following alongside the mostly very straight California Interstate 5 highway, with only minor deviations when the highway makes a sharp turn.

Of course, you’d still need to get Caltrans to sell its own right of way alongside or in the middle of Interstate 5, which is not going to be easy or free. And Musk is downplaying the challenge here when he points to I-5. Building in the Central Valley is the easy and (relatively) cheap part, including land acquisition, whether it’s a bullet train or a Hyperloop. How exactly is Musk going to get these tubes from the Valley to downtown SF and downtown LA without causing disruption?

In the coastal urban centers, Musk will face exactly the same problem that HSR faced on the Peninsula: neighbors will not support an above-ground transportation infrastructure. And it’s a lot more difficult to claim you’ll just use freeway right-of-way, since the overpasses and other nearby structures are a much greater constraint on an aerial structure. It will also make it very difficult for the tubes to remain straight, requiring the pods to be slowed to a point where you lose your time savings from SF to LA. Again, this is the same problem facing HSR. Musk will also face the same CEQA and NEPA challenges that HSR faces.

So it’s extremely unlikely that the Hyperloop can be built without raising objections and attacks from some neighbors along the route. After all, many HSR advocates assumed that they would have an easy time getting approvals to build the tracks – until 2009, when the project became real and opposition did as well.

HSR advocates also assumed that the project could be built cheaply. The estimate used for the project when it went before California voters in 2008 was $33 billion. At the time I said that the cost could well rise above that, and it did so. We’ve seen estimates from $45 billion to $98 billion and now the estimate is $68 billion or so. Musk suggests that land acquisition is a big part of the cost, but that actually isn’t it. The challenge comes when you do the detailed engineering to determine how much it will cost you to build the steel and concrete guideways, whether they’re tracks or tubes, to get from SF to LA. It’s at that point that you usually realize your rosy cost assumptions made on paper aren’t going to hold now that you are faced with reality.

Over at the Washington Post’s Wonkblog Brad Plumer gets it right when he says a Hyperloop might be far more expensive than Musk thinks:

As Alexis Madrigal points out, Musk’s proposal seems to assume it’s possible to buy up tens of thousands of acres in California for a mere $1 billion. That’s awfully optimistic….

It’s worth noting that overruns aren’t unique to California’s high-speed rail. Large infrastructure projects almost always cost far more than initial projections suggest. One Danish study (pdf) by Bent Flyvbjerg, Mette Holm and Soren Buhl looked at 250 major infrastructure projects dating back to the 1920s and found that roughly 90 percent of them went over budget — by an average of about 45 percent.

I have a really hard time seeing how the Hyperloop would be immune from these pressures. Especially when, unlike HSR, it is brand-new and unproven technology. HSR is off-the-shelf tech and has been successfully constructed and operated in countries across the globe. The Hyperloop would be a brand-new thing. Usually when you build something brand new, your costs are going to be higher than if you just built something that already existed elsewhere. That is going to be amplified dramatically if you are looking at connecting SF to LA with a series of tubes.

Again, that’s not to say the Hyperloop shouldn’t be explored or even built. I didn’t like it when critics attacked HSR merely because it was new to California and I won’t attack the Hyperloop, even if its cost assumptions are not realistic. But the Hyperloop is being touted as a substitute for HSR. And by Musk’s own ridership projections, it’s nothing of the sort:

In this study, the initial route, preliminary design, and logistics of the Hyperloop transportation system have been derived. The system consists of capsules that travel between Los Angeles, California and San Francisco, California. The total trip time is approximately half an hour, with capsules departing as often as every 30 seconds from each terminal and carrying 28 people each. This gives a total of 7.4 million people each way that can be transported each year on Hyperloop. The total cost of Hyperloop in this analysis is under $6 billion USD. Amortizing this capital cost over 20 years and adding daily operational costs gives a total of about $20 USD (in current year dollars) plus operating costs per one-way ticket on the passenger Hyperloop.

Putting aside the fact that there’s no way you can build this for $6 billion and have a $20 ticket, the bigger issue is that this is no solution to the state’s transportation needs. 7.4 million people per year is fine. But the HSR system will carry as many as 117 million people per year. That’s an enormous difference. As California grows and as the price of oil soars, California needs a transportation system that can move not just a few million a year, but hundreds of millions a year. HSR can do that. The Hyperloop can’t. The Hyperloop also bypasses Silicon Valley and the cities of the Central Valley, despite the economic and environmental need especially in the Central Valley for a sustainable passenger rail option.

So far, Musk has said that he isn’t going to actually build the Hyperloop – he’s got a very successful day job, after all. That’s fine, it’s always good to have people developing new ideas for us to consider and aspire to build.

Yet we still face an energy and a transportation crisis in this country – as well as a climate crisis. Solutions are needed that will serve more than just 7 million people a year.

At the outset of his technical paper, Musk said that he was disappointed that California wasn’t proposing a cutting-edge technology. He is coming at this from the perspective of an inventor, believing that the key challenge to solve is one of engineering and design.

I would suggest that the real challenge we face in this country is not one of engineering or design, but of politics and resources. We need technical inventors, absolutely. But we also need people and ideas that can help us solve the broader problems we face as a civilization. How do we move beyond an oil-based transportation system that is causing repeated recessions, burning up our planet, and congesting our cities and our lungs? How do we overcome resistance to those solutions? Solving that requires politics as much as it requires design.

To me, high speed rail is just as revolutionary a solution to those problems as the Hyperloop is to the question of how to get from SF to LA the fastest. HSR gets at the oil problem, gets at the energy problem, gets at the climate problem, and gets at the transportation problem more quickly and more effectively than any other transportation infrastructure solution out there. It is also proving effective at overcoming many, though not all, of the obstacles being thrown in its path – obstacles that will absolutely be thrown in the Hyperloop’s path as well.

If the Hyperloop is ever going to be built, it will have to overcome the political bias against inconveniencing neighbors and spending huge sums of money on major infrastructure. HSR is slowly but surely making headway on solving those problems, in part because it is something that can serve a lot of people quickly.

Elon Musk is rightly regarded as one of the leading intellects and entrepreneurs of 21st century California. But we also need people who can find political solutions, just as we need the smart people who can imagine the design and technical solutions. I don’t know that the good folks working on the HSR project are heroes. They’ll never be touted as Great Men or Great Women. But they are doing as much to solve California’s problems as the inventors are, and they deserve credit for it too.

UPDATE: Stop and Move makes more good points about the flaws of the Hyperloop and wonders if it’s a “bad joke or an attempt to sabotage the California HSR project.” I don’t know if Elon Musk is intending to sabotage HSR. But I do think that a lot of the fawning media coverage is fueled by an existing anti-rail bias.

  1. JJJJ
    Aug 12th, 2013 at 22:14

    I agree with most of your thoughts, but don’t think you’ve been harsh enough.

    Here are my own. I think it’s an enormous scam.


    Right now the media is tripping over-themselves to declare this the best thing ever. As you said, wheres the skepticism they display towards HSR?

    Hopefully, by the end of this week every major media outlet realizes there’s nothing behind the hype.

    BMF from San Diego Reply:

    Agree, it is a scam.

  2. Donk
    Aug 12th, 2013 at 22:27

    This is no better than Maglev. Remember when all of the Scaglev supporters opposed CAHSR because it was 19th century technology? What were they thinking? They also proposed that it would be cheaper to build Maglev than HSR.

    Now there will be a bunch of tech nerds who think they are in the know bashing HSR and talking about the Hyperloop, just like the Maglev supporters did before that idea died.

    EJ Reply:

    Well maglev systems have been built, and are operating in China, so at least there are some hard cost numbers you can use for comparison. Right now this is just vaporware. I read the proposal, and the underlying physics seem solid to me, but without even a working prototype, let alone a fully engineered proposal for a LA-SF right of way, any claims as to cost are so theoretical as to be worthless for evaluating its cost-effectiveness.

    Nathanael Reply:

    The physics has problems, with the worst being heat dissipation.

    The pricing is what has the really big problems, though. It’s fantasy pricing. Musk does not know anything about civil engineering costs as far as I can tell.

  3. nbluth
    Aug 12th, 2013 at 22:35

    Musk has (smartly) built his businesses on government subsidies. Government subsidies electric cars (not to mention DOE loans) & government contracts through NASA. He’s wants an elevated highway above the 405 (as opposed to rail) to whisk Tesla owners above traffic congestion for free (as any new elevated highway lanes above the 405 would undoubtedly be HOT lanes that electric cars could use for free). Hyperloop just takes that business model to the next level. Put out wildly optimistic cost figures for a totally radical and untested technology to get public support and turn public sentiment against HSR, then get the government to cover the tens of billions (100’s even?) of dollars in cost overruns a project this massive and advanced is surely to encounter.

  4. Philippe
    Aug 12th, 2013 at 22:51

    Coming from a foreign point of view. I can see what we have is the classic Californian trait of a super hyped idea that is out of this world, that needs to come down to the ground. I am not some one who is against the idea of this sort of thinking, but one needs to come down to the ground to realistic.

    The current LGV & TGV technology is improving all the time, and with the creation of new AGV trains that could regularly go over 350 km/h (210 mph). Should we should be improving on this to its highest possibility. There is currently research being done in Germany for trains to 400 km/h (250 mph).

  5. EJ
    Aug 12th, 2013 at 23:00

    Solid post. I do think the hyperloop idea is a considerably more practical than the old vactrain proposals, given that he’s only proposing a modestly low pressure system (seems vaguely like the SwissMetro proposals from a few years ago), but as you point out the cost numbers are not supportable. Even Musk pretty much admits this is basically just some physicists and engineers doing some back of the envelope calculations, not a fully baked proposal. And some of his assertions are laughable on their face, e.g. the idea that it’s no more disruptive to farmland than telephone poles (presumably these farmers are growing fungi that don’t require access to light).

  6. Clem
    Aug 12th, 2013 at 23:06

    A big dump of all my thoughts on the HyperLoop… kudos for trying, but the concept is not even half-baked.

    I agree with Robert that the claim of HSR being less safe by two orders of magnitude than flying is quite likely factually incorrect (Page 2) although impeccably timed to take advantage of public perceptions in the wake of the recent Spanish train crash.

    My list of show stoppers…

    Show Stopper #8: 0.5g acceleration seems a bit excessive for a comfortable ride. You want this to feel like a swift elevator or subway, not like a roller coaster. 0.5 g is firmly in roller coaster territory and requires the passenger to be strapped in at all times with drinks and laptops put safely away. (Oh and how do you strap in a Model X?) Try more like 0.15 or 0.2 g. This has large and costly impacts on the acceleration sections; the reason for keeping the acceleration so high is to keep the acceleration sections short.

    Show Stopper #7: There is little in the document that discusses the cost, size or weight of environmental control and life support systems, basically providing a safe and comfortable environment for the passengers inside. The driving case here is not based on journey times, but on emergency evacuation where it is conceivable a capsule could languish in the tube for quite a while. (How long would repressing the whole tube take, before emergency hatches can be accessed and opened?) This vehicle subsystem would not be unlike a business jet’s environmental control system, which is neither small, simple, light-weight, nor cheap.

    Show Stopper #6: There is not enough in the document that discusses how thermal loads would be handled and disposed of in a sustainable way, both for the tube and the capsules. The tens of megawatts the system consumes all ends up as heat, somewhere. That’s a lot of heat building up and not all of it can be conveniently disposed of in a pressurized canister of steam.

    Show Stopper #5: Figure 32, how do you do a branch to serve two destinations, or to serve an intermediate station without delaying everyone? Branching the line without slowing every pod to a crawl isn’t explained. This has huge implications for Show Stopper #1 below.

    Show Stopper #4: The whole thing about hard vacuum versus partial vacuum is academic… this is a 99.9% vacuum. In a sudden decompression the passengers cannot survive, regardless of whether oxygen masks are available (section 4.5.2). This is unlike an airliner where there is always sufficient residual pressure and oxygen to survive even the worst-case decompression event.

    Show Stopper #3: Security-wise, it’s easy to destroy this system by making a small dent in the tube. Yes, it’s one inch thick steel, but there are easily attainable ways to dent one-inch steel. When you hit a small bump protruding inside the tube while going at Mach 0.9, nothing good can possibly happen regardless of capsule suspension design. As proposed the system is impossible to secure.

    Show Stopper #2: There’s a lot of talk in section 4.5 about bringing the system safely to a stop. But how do you restart it? If a capsule takes longer to crawl to the next acceleration section (under its own on-board battery power) than the headway interval, you have created a permanent traffic jam that cannot clear itself other than by interrupting service for a while to reset things.

    Show Stopper #1: There will always be the risk of equipment failure or tube damage that will cause a sudden and unplanned stop, which dictates the headway between vehicles. This minimum headway, regardless of how fancy and automated the traffic control system, is a simple and necessary consequence of “shit happens” and creates an inherent capacity limitation for fixed-guideway transportation systems, of which the Hyperloop is just another example, after you look past all the high tech. The minimum headway consists of the following time contributions:
    – the time for the preceding capsule to clear a junction and free the routing through the junction to be changed for the following capsule
    – the time for the route through the junction to be changed
    – the time for the control system to confirm the new route is clear
    – the time for the following capsule to perform an emergency stop if the new route is not clear for whatever reason
    – a bit of extra time for safety margin.
    This is no different than for HSR, and the resulting minimum headways are usually several times longer than the emergency braking distance. HSR deals with the capacity limitation imposed by the minimum headway by (1) packing a huge number of people into one vehicle, e.g. two double-decker trains coupled together with over 1200 passengers, and (2) by operating at top speeds that strike an optimal balance between reasonable braking distances and close headways. Hyperloop can’t strike this balance: in order to work, it requires very high speeds (and greater emergency braking distances), can carry only a few passengers per capsule, and requires relatively short headways. The two-minute headway assumed in section 4.1 is speculative at best, and it’s not at all a given that the Hyperloop could ever provide the same transportation throughput (in passengers per hour per direction) than plain old HSR. Not by a long shot. The minimum headway question is fixed guideway system design 101, and may be the Achilles’ heel of the whole concept. It is not sufficiently addressed in the document.

    Ted K. Reply:

    Re : Show Stopper #3
    Do the terms “Barrett” (0.50″) and “T-Rex” (0.585″) ring any bells ?
    Or how about a chicken cannon loaded with ice ?

    P.S. Isn’t there a rural custom of shooting at road signs ? And wouldn’t a large, steel pipe be a dandy place to print a country bumpkin’s initials ? If he wanted to be save on ammo he would use a 5×7 matrix, otherwise an 8×12 matrix would be more legible.

    Ted K. Reply:

    My apologies – s/to be save/to save/ .

    Alan Kandel Reply:

    Good points all. I don’t see why this information isn’t instead directed at Hyperloop since it is supposedly “open sourced” from a design standpoint.

    Secondly, a scaled-down prototype of Hyperloop should be built first, obviously; a test bed if you will to get all the bugs worked out before going any farther forward. Maybe this is part of the grand plan. I have not yet read the document alluded to above.

    Robert is correct. HSR is already a proven technology/transportation option. But this doesn’t mean efforts like Hyperloop shouldn’t still be pursued. It could very well prove valuable and viable in the future.

    Alon Levy Reply:

    If you use realistic cost estimates, you end up with a third fancier-than-HSR system, alongside JR-Maglev and Transrapid.

    The difference, of course, is that Siemens and JR Central a) have the relevant expertise in rail networks, and b) believe in their systems enough that they’ve spent their own money on them.

    Keith Saggers Reply:

    I’m not going on it and you cant make me.

    Robb Reply:

    Plus, in a closed loop system like this, ANY maintenance that needs to be done on any segment of the tube renders the entire system completely unusable. You can’t reroute around a closed segment.

    Dual-track HSR can use crossover tracks to temporarily share a track between northbound and southbound trains in the event that track maintenance needs to be done. Yeah, it’ll probably require some delays and slowdowns, but at least the system is still mostly usable.

    P Reply:

    My show stopper is a combination of #1, #2 and #4. Let me explain: To achieve reasonable headways the pod would have to be able to stop fairly quickly in an emergency, but nowhere (not even in section 4.5) is the emergency braking system explained. I don’t think this is an oversight but a tacit acknowledgement that an adequate braking system would either radically increase the cost or the achievable headways of the system.

    For example, I did some very back of the envelope calculations and it appears that to stop a pod from full speed would require -1g deceleration for about 35 seconds or about 860,000,000 joules. Normal friction brakes would not work: that is enough energy to melt over 1,000,000 pounds of steel. (Someone please check my math — that seems high even to me, but I can’t find my error.) Brake pads dissipate heat through convection and radiation: there is not enough air density to make convection a significant factor and even with brake pads about 10 square feet in size, the amount of heat that the pads could radiate at any reasonable temperature over the 35 seconds is less than 1% of the amount of heat generated by friction braking.

    A linear eddy brake would send more of the heat to the tube surface or rail, but would blow the power budget of the pod. (Or require expensive infrastructure the entire length of the tube.)

    One traditional solution would be to use the propulsion system in reverse, the way Musk’s plan does for normal stopping at the end of the route, but having linear induction motors along the whole tube would blow up his cost estimates.

    Ben W Reply:

    The passenger hypertube capsule at 760mph has about 240kWh of kinetic energy, or 860,000,000 joules. Assuming (for the sake of an argument) brake pads made of steel, braking against similar steel sections on the inside of the tube, half of the heat will go into the capsule’s brake pads, and half directly into the tube itself. (Actually some of the heat from the capsule’s brakes will transfer into the “colder” tube walls during braking.) The heat that goes into the tube is a non-issue, since it’s spread over a 10km distance. But the capsule’s brake pads will absorb up to 430,000,000 joules. That’s enough to heat up 800kg of steel by 1075 °C. (Specific heat of steel is about 0.5 J/kg°C.) The melting point of steel is about 1370 °C, so 800kg of braking steel would do the job with a decent safety margin. The Hyperloop Alpha PDF specifies a total weight of 1300kg for the propulsion + braking system, but doesn’t specify how much is which.

    Of course, carbon-ceramic brakes, or other exotic aerospace materials, would do an even better job. And presumably the emergency brakes would be single-use, which allows more flexibility in their design.

    Nathanael Reply:

    The show stopper I, James Sinclair, and Alon Levy all spotted immediately is simply the ludicrous price estimates.

    If Musk had actually found a way to do civil engineering for 1/10 the cost of any existing civil engineering project, he should have published it. He hasn’t; he’s just making up phony numbers which are 1/10 the true costs.

    He has a record for underestimating costs, by the way. He’s done it at every one of his businesses, several times in the case of Tesla Motors. In those cases, his underestimates were small enough that they didn’t affect the business plan. A factor of 10, however, is large enough to break the business plan.

  7. Alon Levy
    Aug 12th, 2013 at 23:14

    The Aircraft Crashes Record Office estimates there were 794 deaths in 2012 alone from flying. That was the lowest number since 2004, and the intervening years saw an average of about 1,000 deaths per year.

    High speed rail, however, has an exceptional safety record. Last month’s crash in Spain killed 77 people. The Wenzhou crash in China in 2011 killed 40. The Eschede disaster killed 101 people in 1998. And that’s it. I have no clue where Musk got the claim that HSR is less safe than flying but it is totally false.

    Don’t do absolute numbers, do numbers per passenger-km. I can’t find good recent numbers, but the range of airline safety numbers I’ve seen overlaps the HSR range.

    Honestly, safety-wise, the important thing is to move people to 1 death per 20 billion passenger-km modes from a certain 1 death per 200 million passenger-km mode. And Musk is currently getting government subsidies and hoping to be making money on the 1 death per 200 million passenger-km mode.

    synonymouse Reply:

    Comparing air to rail does not work well. Rail does not travel overseas. If passengers still had to travel via Titanics there would be a lot of deaths just from the complications of old age as the trips would take so long. Not to mention every now and then one would go down to Davy Jones Locker.

    Musk does have Kopp on his side in that CAHSR is definitely not cutting edge, unless you think BART thru suburban backyards is. And it does not appear Musk would hire PB to lay out his route via detours.

    But for Jerry Brown and gang the biggest showstopper is no Amalgamated-TWU platform employees, at least AFAIK. No 13 undocumented no-shows – no kickbacks.

    EJ Reply:

    Also, if you’re comparing travel between major city pairs, e.g. LA – SF, you really need to exclude deaths related to general aviation and remote Alaskan bush travel, whence come the vast majority of air travel fatalities in the US.

    Alon Levy Reply:

    Sure. And likewise, with rail, you should exclude deaths that occurred on legacy track, e.g. the recent Spanish accident.

    Alan Robinson Reply:

    I believe EJ meant that the split should be for to count scheduled commercial service and not unscheduled or private flights. The Santiago crash would still count.

  8. Emmanuel
    Aug 12th, 2013 at 23:49

    Just testing the new technology alone and getting federal approval would cost them hundreds of millions and eat at least 5 years of research. If anything, Elon Musk should look at his own project, SpaceX. You don’t just get a pass from the government to shoot people across the country at such speeds…

  9. Travis Kniffin
    Aug 12th, 2013 at 23:49

    I’d like to point out that the average speed of the complete CAHSR will be about 142 mph. That is far from the slowest—many TGV lines are slower.

  10. synonymouse
    Aug 13th, 2013 at 00:03

    Think of it this way: this is the same genre of happy horseshit that Bechtel promised to the voters when BART passed in 1962.

    And they got a piece of mierda that is as noisy as an NYC subway of a hundred years ago and costs more to equip due to braindead unique specs.

    At least Musk is deservedly and appropriately pissing on Jerry’s parade of mediocrity.

    Keith Saggers Reply:

    The idea of an underwater electric rail tube was first proposed in the early 1900s by Francis “Borax” Smith. It is no coincidence that much of BART’s current coverage area was once served by the electrified streetcar and suburban train network called the Key System. This early twentieth century system once had regular trans-bay traffic across the lower deck of the Bay Bridge. By the 1950s the entire system had been dismantled in favor of automobiles and buses and the explosive growth of highway construction.

    There were also plans for a third-rail powered subway line (Twin Peaks Tunnel) under Market Street in the 1910s.[1]

    Proposals for the modern rapid transit system now in service began in 1946 by Bay Area business leaders concerned with increased post-war migration and growing congestion in the region. An Army-Navy task force concluded that an additional trans-bay crossing would soon be needed and recommended a tunnel; however, actual planning for a rapid transit system did not begin until the 1950s. In 1951, California’s legislature created the San Francisco Bay Area Rapid Transit Commission to study the Bay Area’s long-term transportation needs. The commission’s 1957 final report concluded the most cost-effective solution for the Bay Area’s traffic woes would be to form a transit district charged with the construction and operation of a high-speed rapid rail system linking the cities and suburbs. Nine Bay Area counties were included in the initial planning commission.[2]

  11. D. P. Lubic
    Aug 13th, 2013 at 00:22

    Well, I will have to say that Musk has a lot more in the way of thought for this than I thought would be there, but of course the comments about real-world hardware design and testing, the impacts of the elevated tube, particularly NIMBY problems he will run into, the real-world limitations on stopping distance inherent in a fixed-guideway system, all seem to be things Must missed. Strange, strange indeed. . .

    Just glanced at the proposal, and looking at the actual capsule/pod design (and in particular noting the design’s rather small size), I couldn’t help but recall this, and the similar claims of being providing near HSR service at less cost:


    Hmmm, speaking of testing, check out all that has been done with this vehicle, and it’s nowhere near as radical in concept as the hyperloop!

  12. Joe
    Aug 13th, 2013 at 00:22

    I love HSR and I love Musk, so I knew I would be of two minds about this. The Hyperloop is novel in the sense that it addresses the physics and engineering challenges other tube-transport faces. I think the HSR is important, especially on the energy front, but we have to be real about its significant problems — foremost is it won’t be finished for until 2029. I have no doubt that — even with political roadblocks and unforeseen costs — the state of CA could build the Hyperloop in 15 years for less than $68 billion, and the product is superior in almost every way (except perhaps fewer stops, but central valley stations could be added easily without slowing down an LA-to-SF rider). It would also be an inspiring, progressive project (not that HSR isn’t). I agree with Robert that we shouldn’t “trash” the concept, that there’s a lot to figure out, and that HSR is proven technology that cannot be abandoned. However, there is nothing impossible about Hyperloop. Every obstacle it faces, HSR faces too. We do have the political will to build HSR — maybe we have the political will to do the Hyperloop, too.

    Joey Reply:

    We could build conventional HSR for less than $68 billion in less than 15 years. Other countries with equal or greater technical challenges do it all the time.

  13. Eric
    Aug 13th, 2013 at 00:43

    Putting aside the fact that there’s no way you can build this for $6 billion… 7.4 million people per year is fine. But the HSR system will carry as many as 117 million people per year.

    I think capacity is the key thing. If you accept the $6 billion figure for a hyperloop, and build extra hyperloops to add capacity – it costs $95 billion to carry 117 million people per year. So it ends up being more expensive than HSR – even with Musk’s cost estimate.

    agb5 Reply:

    More important than theoretical annual ridership is how many passengers it can handle during the rush hour… not very many.

    Highway Lane: 2,200 per hour.
    Hyperloop: 3,360 per hour; 28 per capsule @ headway of 30 seconds.
    HSR: 12,000 per hour; 1000 per train @ headway 5 minutes.
    Subway: 30,000 per hour.

    Eric Reply:

    Is there any reason not to make the HSR train twice as long and have 2000 passengers? Or 3 times as long and 3000? Subways are limited by station expense and/or boarding/alighting time, but for HSR those are proportionally much smaller.

    agb5 Reply:

    They have to decide early in the project how long a HSR train will be, so that they build all HST platforms to match the length of the train, longer would be a waste, shorter would be an embarrassment. I think all HSR station platforms will be 400m long and trains 200m long. The transbay terminal is a 400m long hole in the ground, and it’s too late to change it.

    Richard Mlynarik Reply:

    Not even that.

    The Transbay Terminal certainly is a hole in the ground. And an embarrassment. You got those parts right.

    Paul Dyson Reply:

    Eric: congestion at terminals

    Alon Levy Reply:

    Highway lane should be double, since the average number of passengers per car for intercity travel is 2.

    Darrell Reply:

    Although a congested highway lane degrades below 1,500 vehicles per hour.

    Paul Dyson Reply:

    With 30 second hyperloop headways what happens at the approach to terminals? Start to slow down and that 30 seconds disappears rapido, or backs up traffic all the way to origin. Does the great one suggest splitting off into multiple deceleration and terminal tubes 30 – 40 miles from destination? That will look good through PAMPA land.

    Mattie F. Reply:

    You could have multiple parallel tunnels through the acceleration phase that merge into one tunnel for the glide phase.

    Clem Reply:

    The distance disappears, but 30 seconds is 30 seconds at any speed.

    Paul Dyson Reply:

    Quite right Clem. I read your posting and you described the issues very well, thank you. Anyone can get excited about the possibilities of movement through the tube at maximum speed. It’s all about the end points.

    agb5 Reply:

    Splitting the pipe into multiple deceleration lanes would be quite an engineering challenge. The Y junction would have to guide air hovering capsules traveling at speeds of 700mph. Maglev did junctions by having a flexible bit of guideway which could be bent in either direction. Hyperloop could do the same by having a flexible section of pipe which could be pushed laterally by a distance of 3m to make it line up with a parallel pipe.
    To avoid excessive g forces at 700mph the bend in the pipe would have to be gradual, which means a long length of pipe weighting hundreds of tons would have to be moved.
    To maintain a headway of 30 seconds, the pipe would need to be moved very quickly from one branch to the other.
    Moving such a heavy pipe quickly would require a lot of energy. If the pipe got stuck half way, the approaching capsule would have only 20 seconds to decelerate to zero or be totally destroyed.

  14. agb5
    Aug 13th, 2013 at 03:41

    Does anyone know what the current estimated spot price of building HSR is in 2013 $ ? ($43B ?)

    It is claimed hyperloop costs 9% if the price of HSR, but that appears to assume the hyperloop is built overnight at 2013 prices, while the HSR price assumes it is built over 15 years in Year Of Expenditure dollars, with inflation running about 3%. ($68B)

  15. agb5
    Aug 13th, 2013 at 03:44

    Why is it called hyperloop when there is no loop? only hype!

    Reality Check Reply:

    I think “loop” comes from the two one-way tubes, conceptually at least, constituting a loop. But then if that’s a loop, then so are double-track rail lines.

    A common feature of double-track rail lines are crossovers which allow trains to do things like move past blocked or out-of-service segments. I wonder whether and how Musk’s tubes would support bi-directional traffic and crossovers. Seems like yet another difficult problem for HL.

  16. shorebreeze
    Aug 13th, 2013 at 04:45

    Musk also makes extremely faulty assumptions about energy consumption. You’ll see he has train, car and plane all about the same per person, with Hyperloop way, way lower. The fact is, most HSR systems also have much lower energy consumption than other modes of transport, and this one will too, assuming the FRA doesn’t have a button over crash buff strength in mixed-traffic areas and force CAHSR to buy Acela-weight equipment.

    Nathanael Reply:

    Correct. In fact, I believe real HSR systems have lower energy consumption than his hyperloop estimates. :-P

  17. Tony D.
    Aug 13th, 2013 at 08:14

    Poor Musk! Man has a great idea and folks are just slamming him over it. Oh well. That said, I also think HL is to far fetched to become reality from LA to SJ (folks along ENTIRE Peninsula won’t want that thing hanging over their backyard), but what about “limited” loops? I can see this thing making a great link between cities and new remote airports. In San Jose’s case, you could build a new airport in the Central Valley (Paterson area), construct loop link from current terminal complex through Diablo range, and shut down SJC airfield. The tube tunnels shouldn’t cost as much as full rail tunnels due to pods being smaller rhan trains. You could even do the same in San Diego, constructing a new airport in the deserts to the east, with loop link to current Lindbergh terminals. (Ok, slam me to!)

    Mattie F. Reply:

    With regard to NIMBYs, I would imagine the absence of noise would reduce opposition.

    Clem Reply:

    Absence of noise? Citation needed….

  18. JJJJ
    Aug 13th, 2013 at 08:36

    “The $70 billion “high-speed” rail system proposed for California’s coastal corridor prompted Musk to act. “I don’t think we should do the high-speed rail thing because it’s currently slated to be roughly $70 billion but if one ratio is the cost at approval time versus the cost at completion time of most large projects I think it’s probably going to be close to $100 billion. And it seems like it’s going to be less desirable to take that than to take a plane, so that means it’s not just going to be, I mean California taxpayers are not just going to have to write off $100 billion but they’re also going to have to maintain and subsidize the ongoing operation of this train for a super long time, sort of California’s Amtrak. And that just doesn’t seem wise for a state that was facing bankruptcy not that long ago.”


    synonymouse Reply:

    Musk’s analysis of the boondoggle potential of DogLegRail is spot on. So what if hyperloop is pure Buck Rogers; he has a lot of company over the years. Bechtel pulled the same stunt in 1962 with BART and what about the the hypetastic LV monorail?

    Nice to see a likely liberal putting his foot so far up Jerry’s hsr policy derriere he can taste the leather.

    But now he can expect the cold shoulder, not because of the hype but because he has tipped over some sacred cows:

    To wit:

    Burton patronage machine
    Palmdale real estate developers
    Silicon Valley Capital-centrics
    Tejon Ranch Co
    etc., etc.

    But, machinate as they will, they cannot get him fired, unlike Van Ark.

    datacruncher Reply:

    Cross Fresno off that list since Musk includes it. You have to change it to Merced-centrics or Bakersfield-centrics since those two get left out of Hyperloop.

    Heck Musk even implies Fresno would be more important to his system than Sacramento since he estimates more passengers will board Hyperloop in Fresno than in Sacramento.

    JJJJ Reply:

    Any proof he’s a liberal? How do you know he’s not more libertarian and Rand Paul?

    synonymouse Reply:

    Musk clearly is not deploying Fresno Area Rapid Transit, anathema to PB and Amalgamated-TWU.

    Chances of Musk right-wing just about zippo. Essentially he has the rep, gravitas and moxie to articulate what any California citizen of reasonable intellect would say about DogLegRail. Too slow, too circuitous, not competitive with air and bound to demand sizeable subsidy in perpetuity. AmBART, or neo-NEC Acela mit detours. He should have added when don’t they take a page out of the Bechtel book of tricks and build it out to 5.5′ gauge, to pose futuristic and innovative.

    And do you really believe that orphan ARRA-IOS if and when it finally turns a wheel with diesel coaches slightly over 100mph is really going to wow the masses? A Bugatti can do double that speed.

    synonymouse Reply:

    why don’t they

    JJJJ Reply:

    So you have no proof. Lovely. I’ll place him right of Meg Whitman for now.

    synonymouse Reply:

    Nonsense. And Jerry Brown is not pimping for developers.

    nslander Reply:

    IOW- you have zero proof.

    Alon Levy Reply:

    “Zero proof” also describes Musk’s claims about viaduct costs.

    JJJJ Reply:

    Further evidence he is politically in the far right. Hasn’t that been their operating strategy these past few years?

    Alon Levy Reply:

    It could just be a business strategy. His attitude isn’t all that uncommon by Silicon Valley standards, and I think he’s actually less actively malevolent than, say, Nathan Myhrvold.

    Neville Snark Reply:

    I thought, in an insane moment of paranoia, that Musk’s ideas have been financially supported by NIMBYs or BIGAGRO or BIGOIL or something, as a last gasp attempt to stop CHSR. In an insane moment.

    Alon Levy Reply:

    Honestly, I don’t think the NIMBYs have that much creativity. Neither does big oil – Reason et al are batting for buses (i.e. infrastructure for cars), and only ever mention electric cars when someone proposes to build electric trains.

    Don’t fall into the Manichean trap of assuming there’s a unified Them side in which everybody talks. There isn’t.

  19. TomA
    Aug 13th, 2013 at 08:46

    In that case you probably have an issue with capacity. This only supports max 840 people per hour. I assume a short one would hold even less. So you would be spending billions buildings a new airport in the middle of nowhere. Billions buildings a small hyperloop. And in the end most people would still need to drive out there.

  20. James McDonald
    Aug 13th, 2013 at 10:28

    There is no way they are going to build this “Logan’s Run” idea. The supersonic tube could get very hot inside. What if a fire occurred? What if someone had a heart attack? No way to get inside the tube immediately. What about oxygen? No bathrooms. NBC mentioned this would be underground, not above ground. Well, we all know how hard it is for them to tunnel just for the Metro Red Line and soon the Metro Purple Line in Los Angeles.
    This might be a good project for an above ground line, but I won’t see it in my lifetime. I will continue to watch the movie, Logan’s Run (1976) and dream.

  21. Useless
    Aug 13th, 2013 at 10:57

    California high speed rail is all about transplanting a proven train system that’s already in service in half a dozen other countries.

    Hyperloop is about building something new from scratch.

    Now you tell me which one would cost less and is less risky; something that is already in service today or something out of science fiction movies?

  22. Loren Petrich
    Aug 13th, 2013 at 14:37

    I won’t take it seriously unless I see a prototype of it in action, and a prototype with demonstrated reliability.

    Elon Musk thinks that he can save money by putting his system on a viaduct? He ought to recognize that two can play that game. The HSR tracks could also be put on a viaduct, and that’s common in some existing HSR systems.

    So I don’t see how it’s going to work.

    Alon Levy Reply:

    Yes, but HSR infrastructure is 100 FEET WIDE so it’s super-expensive!

    (At least for some value of “foot”)

    VBobier Reply:

    Of course Interstate Highway expansion is more expensive & the Superloop is more expensive than both HSR and Interstate Highways combined…

    agb5 Reply:

    When it is on a viaduct, HSR is 50 feet wide.
    As I understand it, even when it is on a viaduct, the state will buy the land underneath. A farmer can get a 99 year lease of the ground with some restrictions like don’t store anything inflammable underneath.

    Alon Levy Reply:

    30′ wide, actually. Go look at aerial photos of Shinkansen viaducts.

    The 100′ is how wide they intend the (at-grade) ROW to be where land is cheap.

  23. StevieB
    Aug 13th, 2013 at 15:05

    “It’s sort of like me saying, ‘Don’t buy a Tesla, because the Jetsons’ flying car is right around the corner, ” said Dan Richard, the rail authority’s chairman, “I think it’s great, but I don’t see it as something that’s going to compete with high-speed rail anytime soon.”

    Elon Musk offered his Hyperloop concept as an alternative to California High Speed Rail but it is a poor alternative that shows the superiority of rail to move larger volumes of passengers to more underserved cities which will increase economic activity in California.

    synonymouse Reply:

    Musk’s hardware may be defective but his routing is correct and intuitive. Richards to 60 days of detention along with Amalgamated.

    TomA Reply:

    Yes – nothing says correct routing like beginning and ending in the distant suburbs of the cities you intend to serve with your “super fast” vehicles. 35 + an hour on each end for mass transit or taxi to your real location is – well that sounds like about the time it would take to get their on the incredibly circuitous people serving routes of the CAHSR. How about that.

  24. VBobier
    Aug 13th, 2013 at 15:12

    Hyperloop is just unworkable, extremely expensive Stilt-O-Tube & is unproven technology that will never be built, Hyperloop has about as much chance of being built as a statewide hanging monorail system would, ZERO…

    Derek Reply:

    “Zero” is a suspiciously round number. I think you made it up.

    John Burrows Reply:

    From the Oxford Dictionaries definition of Science Fiction—

    “Fiction based on imagined scientific or technological advances and major social or environmental changes, frequently portraying space or time travel and life on other planets”—Hyperloop doesn’t involve space or time travel and obviously would take place on this planet, but for now at least it still comes under the heading of science fiction. I would disagree with you that the chances of “Stilt-O Tube” ever being built are “ZERO” but would agree that the chance of any contributor to this blog riding it is ZERO.

    John Burrows Reply:

    The Keystone XL Pipeline which will carry oil from Alberta to Texas will be 36 inches in diameter and just under 1700 miles long. The cost, including pump stations, maintenance facilities, safety features, etc is estimated at about $7 billion, a billion dollars more than Musk’s estimate for the complete Hyperloop system. I just don’t see how Hyperloop which will carry passengers at the speed of sound using technology that doesn’t exist, can cost less than Keystone–Not to mention that Hyperloop will have to cross SF Bay, cut through extensive urban areas at both ends of the line, travel through mountains both North and South, and cross both the Hayward and San Andreas faults.

    My guess—If Hyperloop starts in San Francisco, it will burn through that $6 billion somewhere in Oakland.

    John Burrows Reply:

    And if you figure dollars at time of construction (2100?), that $6 billion probably won’t get you across SF Bay.

    Alon Levy Reply:

    It’s not even that. Oil flowing at low speed doesn’t care if the pipeline zigzags, or if the engineering tolerances are less than perfect. The people living near the pipeline might care, but they’re all moochers who don’t appreciate the free oil they’re getting from leaks, or something.

  25. Jason Anderson
    Aug 13th, 2013 at 15:17

    I was thinking if this would be better used for Victorville to Las Vegas (XpressWest). Longer straight sections, higher speeds, much cheaper land, not even as politically explosive, and much easier to do. That made me think that it could also be used by folks going beyond Las Vegas, which led to me this thing’s real purpose: freeway accelerator! Find any long, straight section of highway, build this thing along it, and use a version that holds only cars (with their passengers). All of a sudden, any long and boring drive is now much faster. A hypothetical Hyperloop from Main St in Hesperia, following I-15 north to Barstow before cutting straight through the desert to just south of Las Vegas would have a distance of about 180 miles, which would be traversed in 15 minutes by Hyperloop. Imagine the billboards: Exit now for Hyperloop! 15 minutes to Vegas in your own car!

    Or, just build the I-5 straight segment in Musk’s plan and turn a 3.5 hour drive into a 20 minute ride, again in your own car. Drive onto the Hyperloop, drive off and continue your journey. Much easier to build without going into urban areas, eliminating a lot of burnt gas and pollution with minimum muss and fuss. Let’s face it, the majority of political friction generated by projects like these are suburban NIMBYs, so just keep it out of the suburbs.

    Come to think of it, that’s a lot like the way the TGV was designed and built. Use existing low-speed track (existing freeways) near the cities, then transfer to a high-speed line (Hyperloop) for quick trips across rural areas.

  26. trentbridge
    Aug 13th, 2013 at 15:28

    I understand that “Victorville to Las Vegas” is still available for a trial – right down I-15, Elon. Those folks will be happy to gamble on new unproven technology and the Mojave desert doesn’t have those pesky farmers.

    synonymouse Reply:

    Musk may be a bit eccentric, not atypical for wunderkinder, but definitely he is not stupid. Even the severely IQ-and-reality-challenged Feds finally figured out Vegas rail was a bust.

    SF to LA has bonafide profitability potential but only with the optimal alignment, not commute ops and detours.

    Alon Levy Reply:

    The list of high-profile failures is peppered with people with high IQs. The people who kicked Steve Jobs out of Apple in the 1980s weren’t drooling morons.

    synonymouse Reply:

    Yeah, I thought Apple was thru when Jobs returned. Shows what I know about business and Americans’ love for trendy and in.

    Eric Reply:

    If this really costs 10 times less than HSR, then it’ll be quite profitable to Vegas too.

    TomA Reply:

    Seriously – if his cost estimates are correct he could probably get from Victorville to LV for less than $3 billion. And unlike CAHSR, there are no intermediate markets to worry about – its a straight shot – no need to even consider detours.

  27. morris brown
    Aug 13th, 2013 at 19:21

    @Clem and others:

    The State Attorney General’s recent brief claiming CEQA does not apply to the HSR project has now been posted on Scribd.com and can be viewed at:


    This brief was filed in the Atherton et. al. vs CHSRA in the California 3rd district Appeals court. The case # is C070877

    Clem Reply:

    Thanks Morris.

    Resident Reply:

    If I may indulge…
    California High Speed Rail is a California Project, voluntarily approved by California legislature, voluntarily funded by voters under the rules of AB3034. True
    It DOES require an approval by STB insofar that it will link in to federal transportation modes. True
    But should it cease to exist, or would never have existed, it would not hinder any federally mandatory transportation or interstate commerce projects or operations. (ie; if CHSRA gets swallowed by sharknado tomorrow, no interstate projects impact.) True

    California legislators voluntarily birthed California High Speed rail via legislative vote (approving the funding). True

    One could assume that IN THEORY, since California legislators birthed California High Speed Rail via legislative vote, they could just as equally, if so inclined, kill California High Speed Rail via legislative vote. In theory this is True. (In practice not obviously clear that the union/developer special interest beholden democrats in power would choose to take this action, but the choice does belong to the State legislature to keep or stop the project via funding decisions.) True

    Now, the next question here would be this. If legislators would have been told in 2008-2012 ie: in the AB3034 required Business Plans and in the Funding Requests and in the many legislative hearings, that the project would willfully ignore CEQA and only adhere to NEPA, would they have been able to pass the funding vote? No, there would have been more legislators objecting. Would the voters have approved AB3034? No, there would have been more citizen objections.

    Now, knowing that CHSRA is attempting to voluntarily REFUSE to follow state environmental law, are any legislators currently interested in that? Any of them objecting to that?

    We can assume that State adherence to an environment standard that is more rigorous than the federal standard, for a state VOLUNTARY project that can be revoked or stopped any time by vote of the state legislature (not a federally mandated project) should be a voluntary matter for the state to decide. They are not attempting to forgo NEPA, the adherence to CEQA does not would not jeopardize a federal project, or damage proper adherence to NEPA.

    In fact the way to prove that adherence should be a STATE matter, would be to ask, If this were to be found to be an objectionable enough position to enough bipartisan lawmakers at the state level, COULD they, in theory, simply stop the project through STATE legislative vote. The answer is yes!

    Its a totally voluntary project. The adherence to state law CEQA that does not hinder or compromise the federal law NEPA should be voluntary, in a voluntary project, or else the state could simply choose not to do the project at all.
    From the California State Website: When does CEQA apply: “A project is an activity undertaken by a public agency or a private activity which must receive some discretionary approval (meaning that the agency has the authority to deny the requested permit or approval)”

    In this case I would argue that both CEQA and NEPA should apply on this voluntarily approved state project, with the added layer of STB approval which will necessarily include the necessary NEPA steps.

  28. synonymouse
    Aug 13th, 2013 at 19:30

    OT, but a good dose of nostalgia for those who love the City of yore:


    Note the Washington & Jackson Sts. sign on the Powell cable. Lost in the great contraction of 1954-56.

    D. P. Lubic Reply:

    Sort of connected, a story from NPR on the generational shift:


  29. Andrew
    Aug 14th, 2013 at 11:06

    You would have to build a test track somewhere to demonstrate that this technology actually works, similar to maglev. My guess is that you would find that the cost of this technology, if it actually works at all, would be much higher than anticipated, and like maglev, would be far too expensive for it to be economical to build more than a few test installations (e.g. China decided to build conventional high speed rail rather than maglev, except for the short maglev to Shanghai Pudong airport).

    Joey Reply:

    I’m sort of skeptical that air suspension is really a viable alternative to magnetic levitation, particularly at high speed. If it’s really effective as Musk seems to think, then why is it currently limited to a few novelty systems while magnetic levitation is being actively developed?

    synonymouse Reply:

    You can deploy maglev at grade in open air, at least at a certain speed. The concept is really a rough extension of the hovercraft and/or aviation principle. Various means to achieve lift, even if it is only just slightly above the guideway.

    Joey Reply:

    If you’re going to reply to my post, please keep it relevant to the content of my post.

    Reedman Reply:

    99.9% of all disk drives use air suspension (an “air bearing”) to allow the read/write head to fly the proper distance above the disk. (It is sometimes described as a 747 flying an inch off the runway.)

    Joey Reply:

    And the technology used in disk drives is relevant to the technology used to levitate a large vehicle above a guideway how?

    agb5 Reply:

    The test track would have to be long enough to accelerate the capsule to 700mph, have it cruise for several minutes, the decelerate it back to zero, so you are looking at a 50 mile long track that would cost hundreds of millions of $ and take a decade to build and debug.
    I don’t see who is going to come up this kind of cash.

    synonymouse Reply:

    Carlos Slim has $80bil in his personal fortune.

    Bernanke blows $85bil/mo. on QE.

    How much money do you think the CIA et al is slipping to various Egyptians as we post? They financed the coup that sent Farouk into exile to Paris and within a few years literally overeating himself to death.

    Eric Reply:

    Musk is a billionaire, and land is cheaper in many places outside California.

  30. Paul Dyson
    Aug 14th, 2013 at 18:06

    What sort of businessman offers to transport people between cities in half the time of the competition and only want to charge $20?

    Marc Reply:

    One who has no plan to actually build it.

    Nathanael Reply:

    Bingo. It’s quite notable that Musk has NOT started a company to build the “Hyperloop”. When he has a GOOD idea he starts a company, have you noticed that? He’s done so four times.

    Alon Levy Reply:

    One who figures that’s the market-clearing price for a barf ride?

    Paul Dyson Reply:

    No, Alon, a day pass at Magic Mountain is much more expensive, and you end up where you started!

    synonymouse Reply:

    You can tell that Musk is at least somewhat serious by the routing. Jerry and Richards cannot even get that right.

    The technology is indeed fanciful – on the order of the space elevator. Maybe they can get the Defense Department to find a national security angle and finance a testtrack.

    But when it comes to hype Musk is a late-comer. BART promised vactrains and delivered an NYC subway handicapped with broad gauge and various and sundry other bizarro unique specs. The CHSRA promised hsr but is delivering AmBART in the boonies, not even a TEE.

    Alon Levy Reply:

    One subway station in New York has about as much ridership as all of BART combined.

    TomA Reply:

    Hes not serious. He knows that the only way he can get anyone on board is to have really cheap costs, and he knows the only way he can do that is to construct a useless segment between Sylmar and Oakland or Dublin or wherever with no intermediates stops (i.e. a slightly faster, but inherently more dangerous plane that dumps you further from the city center than actually flying to airports).

    If he actually made something that was meant to compete with HSR and not planes (i.e. by going to city centers and stopping in other population centers like trains do, but not planes), it would be in the same range as HSR but with completely untested technology.

    You know he NOT serious when he uses land acquisition costs in areas where land is pretty cheap (i.e. areas that aren’t cities) as an excuse as to why his thing is so much cheaper.

    Alon Levy Reply:

    You also know he’s not serious when he thinks land acquisition costs are the dominant term in HSR construction. Because, um… the preexisting Caltrain corridor is expensive land to acquire?

  31. Richard Mlynarik
    Aug 15th, 2013 at 22:44


    EJ Reply:

    Oh man, I’d forgotten all about that. Still funny after all these years.

    A few weeks ago I had my friend’s 8 year old kid convinced that a special “hot dog train” runs along the I-10 corridor between Texas and Florida supplying the region with hot dogs every day.

  32. Wells
    Aug 16th, 2013 at 14:43

    So then, Hyperloop is a tedious distraction from more pressing concerns about CAHSR routes, wasteful electrification, feasibility studies ignored, elevated concrete viaduct and pier impacts, high dB noise through Bakersfield as if those who live nearby and won’t be riding it have any say in the matter, the great debate Pacheco-v-Altamont and Tejon-v-Tehachapi, etc. Let’s just all jump on the triumphant HSR bandwagon because certain legislators were informed by GOD that a 2hr 40min jaunt between the two cities ISN’T nonsense, and a 60min trip ISN’T sheer nonsense.

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